When lockdowns hit around the world, many of us learned the value of a nice, long walk through nature. Personally, I discovered a lovely field down the road from my house and later, an idyllic, winding path through the local cemetery filled with flowers, and a flowing river. These spaces became my hideaways with gyms and shops closed – spaces where I could breathe, ruminate on the state of the world, and steal a quiet moment for myself. Miska, an upcoming adventure game from Australian studio Umbrella Party, effectively bottles this solace and reprieve in a quiet, contemplative experience.
At PAX Aus 2022, Umbrella Party shared a snippet of Miska gameplay that illuminated more about the cosy, relaxing game and its rewarding loop. In Miska, you begin in a cloistered caravan littered with various pieces of garbage. This is your temporary home, and contains all the detritus of living – a crushed can, a bag of chips, and other paraphernalia. Until you trash these pieces in a nearby garbage can and clear your space, you can’t enter the world of nature glimpsed beyond your windows.
Once your cleanse is complete – a door swings open, your invitation to a glittering forest landscape surrounded by beauty. But while the world seems idyllic, it isn’t long before you notice the trash in every corner, stinking up the landscape and dampening the colours in the environment. In one corner, you’ll spot a piece of discarded paper. In another, a whole family of cans reside.
Water bottles float in the nearby lake, and other trash is littered around a burned-out campfire.
Evidence of humanity is everywhere – in the litter, in the makeshift campfire and in the man-made bridges and gates that rope off the lake and surrounding areas of the bush. But while humanity has clearly had some positive impact on the world of Miska, negligence and a lack of care have clearly changed the natural environment, cutting off its beauty and grandeur.
To better explore the world of the game, open up pathways, and encourage new growth, Miska tasks you with literally taking out the trash. As a friendly visitor, it’s your job to wander far afield, exploring each corner of the map, picking up trash and depositing it in nearby bins.
As you walk, you’ll discover new sights – a rose bush, a succulent in bloom, or towering trees. You’ll even be able to find a dog nearby, and play catch as a slow, melodic soundtrack plays out.
Gather enough trash, and you’ll be treated to a delightful blossoming, as trees bear fruit, the ground livens up, flowers unfurl, and a sweeping wind descends into the valley, rustling trees as it goes. This is accompanied by the soaring game soundtrack, with uplifting strings and mournful flutes buoying the experience of bringing nature back to life.
While your cleaning task is simple, it becomes incredibly mindful and rewarding, with each piece of garbage contributing to the birth of new life – a not-so-subtle metaphor for the harmful impact humanity can have on the environment.
But while the trashed nature was caused by humans – humans can fix it, too. Brief actions like putting garbage away can reveal more of the game’s world, and eventually, save Miska‘s local park from its sorry state.
The message at the heart of Miska is simple – we need to care for our natural environment while we can – but in gamifying the experience of cleaning garbage, and rewarding players with new paths and beautiful environments along the way, the game effectively creates a relaxing, memorable journey likely to encourage advocacy and better behaviour in its audience.
We only have one world to live in. Miska aims to ensure we understand that, and appreciate it while we can. The game is currently targeting a 2023 release, and you can wishlist it on Steam.